You will see notes like this one in the AP: “Appointed by President Kennedy in 1962, White soon became a dissenter from many of the court’s liberal rulings of the 1960s.” Actually, I think the AP has it wrong. Byron White was the mirror image of Robert F. Kennedy: he was strongly pro-labor and as equally opposed to corruption and organized crime within the unions and without. See, for example, RFK’s service on the McClellan Committee in the late 1950’s.
What else will they say about Byron White — he was one of two dissenters in Roe v. Wade. Guess what? Bobby Kennedy (and especially his wife, Ethel) was opposed to abortion on demand.
White was anti-communist. RFK started out working for Sen. Joe McCarthy, although was opposed to McCarthy’s tactics (but not his anti-communist, pro-America stance) and resigned and wrote a tough critique of McCarthy’s methods and conclusions.
White was pro-civil rights, especially in the areas of voting rights and education rights, as was RFK with his move to desegregate Ole Miss. Yet, White, like RFK and others of that generation, most notably Hubert H. Humphrey, were strongly opposed to the evolution of affirmative action into goals, quotas, and reverse discrimination.
As you might have guessed, I have long admired Byron White. Nevertheless, I think he made his share of mistakes. For example, while he was not a doctrinaire absolutist (siding with the state) in the church-state cases, he dissented in the Widmer v. Vincent case which held that religious speech was entitled to the same rights as non-religious speech.
Justice White, former football star, attorney, Judge; you had a good run. May you rest in peace.
Jonah Goldberg wrote a column a few years ago about the fact that Hubert Humphrey, known as “Mr. Liberal” back in the 1960s, assured his colleagues during debate on the 1964 Civil Rights Act that nothing in the bill could lead to quotas. Humphrey said: